…you could cry like a man.
A few weeks ago, I was faced with a challenge—one of life and death, really—though I won’t go into the details here. Suffice to say I needed spiritual peace, and fast. My first thought was to go to the closest church, light a candle, and pray. That’s standard practice where I grew up in Northern New Mexico; where a small donation in a hot, waxy shrine, knees at the altar, will provide an instant layer of comfort for the soul.
It was mid-evening that Sunday, and all the nearby churches were already closed for the night, the last mass having ended two hours prior. Less than two miles from my home though, is California’s first mission, San Diego de Alcalá. There, a small outdoor shrine to the Virgin Mary sits on a small, grassy plateau, often overlooked by the worshippers and tourists emerging from the ancient sanctuary.
I went there, the sun already set, and sat beside her on a small bench in the still warm air. I clasped my hands and prayed. Before long, the tears came, and came hard. In no time, I found myself sobbing. I didn’t need to compose myself because I was alone, until… I heard footsteps along the path leading to the shrine. Another man, accompanied by his wife or girlfriend, took a seat not too far behind me, and very soon after his arrival, he began to wail.
I later moved to a small tiled bench on the grassy patch, and faced the shrine from an angle. I continued to pray and cry, my ear catching the muffled sorrow of the man. Quick peeks over my shoulder showed the woman trying to console him, but letting him grieve, for whatever was hurting him.
My tears began to let up, I think because there was another brother right there, having his own struggles, facing them in the same manner I had chosen that evening. It somehow felt good to have a cry with this total stranger not ten away from me.
My prayers began to include him. May he find peace with whatever hurts him now. May a healing light shine upon him. Shine upon me.
God and Mary only know what troubled the stranger and me that night. Our mutual agony in the garden, though tortuous, was oddly therapeutic. Sob fests tend be like that. They ultimately have the same effect as a gut-aching laugh session: with both you come unstitched. One, however the seams rip from the outside. The other, they tear from within.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.